Good mental health and building a safe space for kids where they can bare themselves open are still frowned upon by our society, and even by our parents. I want to share a life event with you all to show the psychological impact of not giving value to a kid’s pressing complaint. I have tried to open myself up regarding the issue earlier as well.
Due to the stigma attached to mental health, I couldn’t speak up earlier. But I feel this needs to be told.
I was 16 years old. Having been raised in a remote village of West Bengal, I grew up like a stag in a forest. I had no reservations about anything. I enjoyed taking a bath in a big pond with my friends, returning home from school with my friends in the afternoon. Afternoons were special for me. They carried a tantalising perfume. We used to have feasts at least once every month at the back of our home. The place was surrounded with huge mango trees.
This is how I grew up. Readers might be thinking that I have derailed from my original story, but this is not the case. This was my life before I turned 15. And in due course, readers themselves would recognise the line of demarcation between my life before and after 15.
I was in Class 9 when my parents sent me to a boarding school in Malda on the advise of one of my high school teachers. My joy knew no bounds and there were certain reasons behind it. My perception of a boarding school was that I would live on my own terms. Craving for extreme independence was what inspired me to get admitted to the boarding school. I was busy building castles in the air.
The first few days at the boarding school were full of excitement and new experiences for me. I would wash my clothes, clean my dishes and do everything on my own. This was my first taste of freedom. But I fell off the sky the moment I came to realise that this is nothing but a prison cell for me where independence was not given but forcibly taken away to make students “disciplined” and “well-mannered”. I used to cry to my mother over the phone regarding my uneasiness while staying there. She used to comfort me by saying that things would fall in place once I get used to the environment of the boarding school. It was not that I did not try. I tried, but it went in vain.
Then, on a fine winter evening, I fled the boarding school. I had no plan of going back home. My parents’ nonchalant attitude towards me motivated me to go elsewhere and not home. I boarded the train and decided to go to Mumbai. At 3 am, I reached the Sealdah station, Kolkata. I was frustrated. I didn’t know even whether I would survive or not. I used to keep a diary with me all the time. At the railway station, I met a man in his mid-30s. From my broken Hindi, he recognised that I am a Bengali and asked me sternly, “Why are you speaking in Hindi despite being a Bengali?”
I literally went out of words. All of a sudden, to my utter surprise, he asked me, “Hostel theke paliye esechis kano (Why have you fled the hostel)?” I broke down in tears. He asked my name and about the belongings I was carrying with me. I showed him my diary. He read some of my poems, heaved a sigh and kept asking me repeatedly to go back home. He then took me to the Sealdah Railway Police Cell. During the course of his conversation with the in-charge of the police cell, I came to know that he was a senior ornithologist based in Dehradun. I was surprised to know that.
I came home. I confined myself to my room for about three months. During this period, I literally spoke to no one. No one bothered to know the reasons behind my fleeing the hostel. The headmaster of my boarding school lied to my parents about me having an affair with a girl in order to save himself from any confrontation. I still think about his false allegations. How can a teacher lie like this!
Psychologically, I suffered immensely. The suffering went to such an extent that I developed a nerve-related disease. I used to always remain under a spell of fear and anxiety. I had to get admitted to the Institute of Neurosciences in Kolkata. I was bed-ridden for almost eight months.
Parents should understand their children and create space where children can share with them what’s going on in their minds. How can a child learn to grow if they get bullied at home? Parents should understand that fear and respect are two completely different tenets.